The post-brunch open house in NYC is dead, but deals still get made during the pandemic

Tray Ling

One of the biggest shifts for brokers during the pandemic has been a heavier reliance on Zoom, Peek and similar technologies, as safety regulations have curtailed in-person showing options. Seeing a property virtually as opposed to in person has now become a common first step for potential clients, multiple brokers […]

One of the biggest shifts for brokers during the pandemic has been a heavier reliance on Zoom, Peek and similar technologies, as safety regulations have curtailed in-person showing options. Seeing a property virtually as opposed to in person has now become a common first step for potential clients, multiple brokers said.

“People are happy to start their search digitally, online. And then, if something piques their interest in the city, they’ll come in for a day or two,” said Cindy Scholz, a Compass broker who relocated from the city to Long Island. “It’s not like people are going out and touring properties every weekend, like it used to be in the city. Open houses aren’t really a thing anymore.”

Scholz said that these days it is actually more important for her to have a physical presence in the Hamptons than to have one in the city. Although Manhattan sales got off to a strong start this year, the city spent much of last year dealing with plummeting rents and a record number of apartment vacancies. Meanwhile, the Hamptons enjoyed an almost 16-year record high of 803 home sales during the fourth quarter, along with a record median purchase price of $1.4 million, according to a Douglas Elliman report.

Broker Ken Mandelbaum of Brown Harris Stevens spent much of the past year working from Vermont, Long Island and Jamaica.

He has seen the virtual-first dynamic play out with several of his listings. Many potential buyers start out by doing FaceTime tours of properties, he said. They don’t even try to show up in person until much later in the process, he added. In one recent example, a shopper from San Francisco was considering a Dumbo property.

“He didn’t come until the very last minute, and then liked what he saw after having done all the due diligence,” Mandelbaum said. “He did purchase it after one visit to the city.”

That dynamic in particular is likely to last, according to Corcoran Chief Executive Pam Liebman. People will still need to see the places where they want to live—in person—before closing a deal, she said. But the quality of online touring options has increased significantly, she noted, and that will help them stay appealing even after in-person tours become easier.

Informal open houses might not survive the pandemic, however.

“I think it becomes more of a curated open house, with potential buyers being vetted,” Liebman said, “not this Sunday afternoon activity of just hitting up people’s apartments because you’re curious or you had nothing to do after brunch.”

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